Yesterday Facebook rolled out big changes to how the “Like” button works on websites. If you’ve used a Facebook “Like” button on a web page before, you’ll recall that it opens up a new window and gives you a chance to add a description to the link being liked. Luckily, Facebook has now decided to spare you the trouble of having to write words all your own! Instead, it just posts the Like’d link directly to your wall and your friends’ news feeds. And the Like’d link’s image and summary text is now completely determined by the”Liked” web page rather than yourself. How… convenient?
So now you don’t get control even over the information you’re posting to your own profile wall and news feed. Instead the web page you’re Liking gets to determine that. Advertisers and businesses will love this, as it means they get their own copy out to your friends / their target market without having to worry that you might contaminate the message with (horrors!) your own perspective and thoughts on the matter. Yes, it’s yet another move by Facebook to monetize their platform at the expense of usability and the end user.
Facebook’s tactic of fundamentally changing how a standard feature works is pretty unethical in my book. Especially since as usual there’s no notice to the users. They’re taking advantage of a protocol and set of behaviours they introduced themselves over the last few ways in a very sneaky way. If they’re going to trot out what is basically a huge change like this, shouldn’t it be a new feature, not a stealthy usurpation of an existing one? Well, actually… it already IS it’s own feature: this kind of functionality is already covered by the “Share” button! No, definitely not on the up and up or in the user base’s best interests with this new push.
And once again, here we go round the monetization bush, the monetization bush, the monetization bush! The whole thing reminds me of how Google’s AdWords works, except you do the heavy lifting for the advertisers instead of Facebook. What AdWords does is analyse the text of the page you’re on, and Google then plunks an ad down that it thinks will appeal to you based on the content of the page you’re viewing. With this new Facebook “Like” functi0nality, you’re taking the place and doing the work of the behind the scenes computer gee-whizzery to pick out the ads to display to your friends. It’s actually quite clever how Facebook is subverting their social networking platform user base into a voluntarily self organizing marketing demographic and peer to peer advertising agency.
Frankly, it wouldn’t all that awful if Facebook was at least up front about what they’re doing. It’s just all this sneaky business that gets my goat – Facebook built themselves up as a social media platform for friends to keep in touch and share media, and that’s great. Then they monetized it by putting in contextual ads and bolting on games and other apps. Great, that’s all above board and straightforward (well, except for when they expose or sell your personal info). However, this subtle re-purposing of the whole website, to the point where you’re not even in control of the content that’s appearing on your own profile anymore and you’re being manipulated into spamming your friends… well, that’s just ugly. I thought Facebook using your posts as “Sponsored Stories” ads for your friends was bad, but this is just totally unethical – they’re quietly changing a long established dynamic just to make a buck, not offer the user base anything. Diaspora… PLEASE hurry up and save us from this!